Hosting Accessible Remote Meetings and Events

An instructor speaks at a podium to a crowd in Sanders Hall.When meetings and events are held remotely, digital accessibility is important to ensure that all attendees, including people with disabilities, are able to participate and engage with content at the same time, with the same ease of use.

With a little pre-planning, event hosts can structure an inclusive and functional environment for all participants.

Before the Event

Digital Meeting Platform

Zoom is the most widely used platform for web conferencing at Harvard, but others including Microsoft Teams are commonly used. Some suggestions throughout this page may be Zoom-specific, but most may be applied more generally across web conferencing platforms. 

Meeting Invitation

Calendar icon with check mark.When sending your meeting invite, include a statement letting individuals know that they can request accommodations (such as ASL or captioning) for the meeting. For example: “Persons with disabilities who wish to request accommodations or who have questions about access, please contact [meeting sponsor’s email] in advance of the session.”

Event sponsors are expected to explore and seek to fulfill reasonable accommodations when requested by an individual. University Disability Resources (disabilityresources@harvard.edu) offers consultation if you have questions about the requests that you receive. Accessibility Vendors for hire are also listed on the University Disability Resources site.

RSVP Form

Icon of laptop with form on the screen. If you are including an RSVP submission form with your event posting, ensure that the form is accessible, especially to users who might not be using a mouse, or who might be accessing the form on a mobile device. Learn more about creating accessible forms on the Digital Accessibility website: 

Presentation Materials

Icon of presentation screen with graphs and text.When sharing slides, videos, or audio content, it is recommended that any online materials be accessible, and made available ahead of time for attendees. 

Sharing a copy of your slides in advance allows participants more direct control over their access to information (to magnify or invert colors as needed), rather than being held to the larger group experience, which may not be as accessible to them.

At the Event

Live Captioning

Event sponsors may choose to provide live captions for their meeting when required or encouraged by the University, if they receive a request for captioning from an individual, or as an inclusive practice to make an event more accessible. There are two common practices for live-captioning an event: provide captions in-house, or hire a captioning vendor. Because of the complexity and difficulty involved in producing live captions, self-produced or in-house captioning generally does not meet accessibility requirements for accuracy. Therefore, it is recommended that a vendor be used to ensure accuracy of captions.

Learn more about live captions: 

Present in an Accessible Manner

Orient the conversation

If feasible, turn on your video and face the camera. Seeing the speaker helps participants maintain attention, and it can be helpful for anyone who is reading lips.

Encourage all attendees to identify themselves by name before speaking. This helps those who cannot see the other attendees’ video to follow along and participate in the conversation. 

Be descriptive

Describing visual content being displayed will help anyone with a vision or cognitive disability, as well as anyone who may be joining only by phone or with no video for any reason.

Keep in mind that expressions such as, “right here” or “here we see” or "in the upper-right" will not translate well to participants who cannot see the screen. Be descriptive and clear when you present materials.

Be flexible in how you take questions

Participants have a few options for asking questions in a web conferencing platform such as Zoom. They can raise their virtual hands and unmute themselves when called upon, or they can post questions directly in the chat window, to be answered whenever possible. It is recommended to allow for both methods, but to always repeat any questions posed in the chat. Repeating the questions helps anyone who can’t access the chat visually during the session, and it can even improve the accuracy and quality of captioning.

Read aloud links posted in Chat

When using the chat feature, keep in mind that anyone using assistive technology may not be able to copy or activate the links. It is therefore recommended that you speak out the URL when posting it in chat. You may also consider emailing participants any resource links being shared either before or following the session, especially for very long URLs. 

Collaboration Features

Polling and Whiteboard Annotation

Zoom provides polling and whiteboard annotation features. However, these features are not yet fully accessible. Use these Zoom features carefully by clearly describing any interaction, and allowing opportunities for participants to express difficulties or barriers they may be experiencing. Plan for how you may share the poll or whiteboard information in a different way, and consider how to be descriptive in sharing visual elements, such as annotations that may be written on the whiteboard or polling results. 

Breakout Rooms

Before sending attendees into Breakout Rooms, prepare them for the experience by announcing how long the breakout session will last, and if the host will be joining any of the groups. Provide clear instructions about how to ask a question or seek help during a breakout session. 

Note: If an attendee has requested live captioning, be sure to assign that attendee with the person who is typing the captions in the same breakout room. 

After the Event

Make Your Feedback Survey Accessible 

Icon of laptop with form on the screen.Similar to the RSVP form, ensure that your event feedback form is accessible, especially to users who might not be using a mouse, or who might be accessing the form on a mobile device. Learn more about creating accessible forms on the Digital Accessibility website: 

Posting a Video Recording of the Meeting

If a video recording of a live event is posted to a public-facing Harvard website, the video must be posted with accurate captions provided as required by the Digital Accessibility Policy. Live captions don't meet the accuracy level required for post-production captioning, so the captions would need to be updated and corrected to include things like punctuation, speaker names, etc. You may update the captions yourself for accuracy or hire a vendor to provide accurate captions.

Vendors that may be hired for captioning pre-recorded audio or video:

Resources